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#2016040 - 01/17/13 10:23 AM How to look at an older, used piano
concertina Offline
Full Member

Registered: 07/11/11
Posts: 43
Loc: Canada
So I am going to go look at a privately sold Kawai RX1 sometime this weekend. According to the seller, it was made in 1997 and was "last tuned about 5 years ago after we moved to current house and waited it to be settled." My impression is that they were the first owners, but I will verify this when I look at it.

So here is my first question: How do I look at this piano? I know very little about piano anatomy, so if anyone could point me to some sort of illustrated resource, that would be great. I plan to have a technician look at it if I like it, but of course I don't want to pay to have someone come out if there are obvious defects.

My second question: This piano obviously hasn't been tuned for a long time, and it's possible that it was only tuned sporadically before that. They claim to have a daughter who no longer plays, so maybe it was well maintained for a while and just hasn't been played or tuned recently, but it's anyone's guess. So firstly, how will this past affect the future of the piano, and secondly, how can I (a poor player myself) properly evaluate a piano that is probably not its best?

Thanks for any help! I'm looking forward to having a piano, but I'm finding shopping stressful and confusing.

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#2016054 - 01/17/13 10:46 AM Re: How to look at an older, used piano [Re: concertina]
jawhitti Offline
Full Member

Registered: 08/01/12
Posts: 235
The simplest test is to play it. Even as a poor player you'll get a sense of the tone and timbre, even if you just play single notes and listen to them decay.

If it plays or sounds like crap to YOU then say thank you and leave. Don't think about "Well what if it is tuned" or whatever. If the sound and feel appeals to YOU *then* get a tech. Basically a good-sounding and playing piano may have problems lurking but a piano that plays or sounds like crap is probably not worth bothering with, ESPECIALLY private sale where you will get no dealer support.

As far as not being tuned / neglected - if you do buy it it will probably need to be tuned 4 times or so in the first year just to acclimate. As long as the piano has sat in a climate-controlled environment it's probably fine.

And yes, shopping for pianos can be vomit-inducingly stressful.

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#2016056 - 01/17/13 10:52 AM Re: How to look at an older, used piano [Re: concertina]
Plowboy Offline
2000 Post Club Member

Registered: 06/26/08
Posts: 2307
Loc: SoCal
Originally Posted By: concertina

So here is my first question: How do I look at this piano? I know very little about piano anatomy, so if anyone could point me to some sort of illustrated resource, that would be great. I plan to have a technician look at it if I like it, but of course I don't want to pay to have someone come out if there are obvious defects.


Larry Fine's The Piano Book would be an excellent resource for you. It goes into some detail on what to look for when examining a used piano. I believe you can still purchase a copy, or maybe it is at your local library.

The RX series are nice pianos, it is worth looking into.
_________________________
Gary

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#2016058 - 01/17/13 10:56 AM Re: How to look at an older, used piano [Re: concertina]
pianoloverus Offline
Yikes! 10000 Post Club Member

Registered: 05/29/01
Posts: 19271
Loc: New York City
I don't think an extremely out of tune piano can be evaluated for tonal quality (except perhaps by a professional technician). This is a big problem when shopping for poorly maintained piano whether at dealers or at private sales.


Edited by pianoloverus (01/17/13 10:57 AM)

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#2016068 - 01/17/13 11:14 AM Re: How to look at an older, used piano [Re: concertina]
concertina Offline
Full Member

Registered: 07/11/11
Posts: 43
Loc: Canada
I don't mind tuning it more frequently for the first year or so. My understanding is that I would have to do that even if I buy a brand new piano, and I'm hoping that by buying used I will be able to get a better piano within my budget. Is it true that the plastic action parts in the Kawai pianos give them better tuning stability? Can I count on this to make the piano a relatively safe bet, or not?

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#2016073 - 01/17/13 11:24 AM Re: How to look at an older, used piano [Re: concertina]
Plowboy Offline
2000 Post Club Member

Registered: 06/26/08
Posts: 2307
Loc: SoCal
The "plastic" parts in the action do not make the tuning more stable, but they do make for more stable action regulation.
_________________________
Gary

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#2016076 - 01/17/13 11:31 AM Re: How to look at an older, used piano [Re: pianoloverus]
jawhitti Offline
Full Member

Registered: 08/01/12
Posts: 235
Originally Posted By: pianoloverus
I don't think an extremely out of tune piano can be evaluated for tonal quality


That's probably true. But here's the thing. If the seller really gave a [censored] about selling the piano they would at least have it tuned. If they're too cheap to spend 100 bucks to help along what's likely a multi-thousand dollar sale then you probably don't want to do business with them anyway. It smells.

If you show up to buy a piano and it sounds terrible or feels terrible and you are not a sophisticated buyer - walk away. There's a million RX-1 class piano for sale. If the seller tries to protest then tell the seller to get the piano tuned up on *his* dime and maybe you'll come back.

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#2016083 - 01/17/13 11:39 AM Re: How to look at an older, used piano [Re: concertina]
concertina Offline
Full Member

Registered: 07/11/11
Posts: 43
Loc: Canada
Jawhitti, you might be right. I have to say, though, that my impression is that the seller doesn't play the piano himself and has no idea that 5 years is a long time to go without tuning. Is ignorance on his part a huge warning sign, or an opportunity for me to get a decent piano at a good price?

Anyway, I am also hoping to look at another RX1 from 2001 that they claim has been well maintained, but is on its second owner. I will pay more for the better piano if I like that one better, but of course I want to explore all my options. I can wait a couple of months to see if anything else comes available, but I don't live in a huge market (Calgary, Canada) and I do want to get something fairly soon.

I appreciate any help or advice I can get!

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#2016094 - 01/17/13 12:08 PM Re: How to look at an older, used piano [Re: concertina]
jawhitti Offline
Full Member

Registered: 08/01/12
Posts: 235
Well risk/reward my friend. smile If you're a relative n00b (as I was when I started shopping) then you should probably expect to spend a few months playing pianos at different dealerships, scouring pianobuyer.com and learning about the piano market in general. Over time two things will happen: 1) You will discover what you like in a piano - a bright sound? a soft, delicate sound? Action? etc. 2) You will get a feel for how the market works. This takes months. However if you're willing to invest the time to do so you'll be in a far better position to locate a piano that you love and negotiate a price.

It's worse than buying cars, in my opinion. The market for pianos is even less liquid, and the condition of used pianos is all over the map. And on top of it a piano, as a tool for artistic expression is a more personal purchase than a car. I too felt like I was going to throw up while shopping for mine last summer. Just be patient. The market for pianos is in the doldrums right now so if you have the cash you can negotiate a heck of a deal once you find one you love.

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#2016098 - 01/17/13 12:11 PM Re: How to look at an older, used piano [Re: concertina]
Jerry Groot RPT Offline
6000 Post Club Member

Registered: 11/07/07
Posts: 6828
Loc: Grand Rapids Michigan
If they say it hasn't been tuned in "about 5 years" double that. That is generally more accurate.

Should you buy it, as is, YOU are likely in for two tunings. One now, to raise it up to pitch and tune it and another in a couple of months to tune it again for stability because it will change with a major pitch raise.

You may also likely be in for some mechanical work as well. If the tuning was neglected, so was everything else.....

There is only one way to know for sure and that is to call in a tech to look at it. Now, the owner will be there and, the owner will probably ask the tech for as much information as possible. I always refuse to give the owner any information. But, I get asked by the owner almost every single time I'm hired to appraise a piano for the buyer. The owner didn't hire me to look at the piano for them, YOU DID. Owners can be very sneaky that way. I'm not one that allows that. I look it over, keep silent, thank them for their time and if they ask me any questions I defer it back to the buyer saying, sorry, the buyer is paying me for my time, my assessment goes to them and only to them. I smile and walk out.

Some owners get pretty persnickety with this. They think they are deserving of a free appraisal from the technician. This happens frequently.

It would be advisable for you to also be there when we are there looking at the piano. That will help to ensure that the owners ask the tech less questions. It also allows the technician to point things out to you, as we see them while the piano is apart.
_________________________
Jerry Groot RPT
Piano Technicians Guild
Grand Rapids, Michigan
www.grootpiano.com

We love to play BF2.

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#2016103 - 01/17/13 12:18 PM Re: How to look at an older, used piano [Re: concertina]
concertina Offline
Full Member

Registered: 07/11/11
Posts: 43
Loc: Canada
I don't know, when we bought our car that was pretty stressful too. On the other hand, we got a great car for much less than it would have been new. In other words, we got a much better car than we could have if we had bought new. I was hoping the same would apply to pianos, but you're probably right that it is a bit more complicated than that. But maybe, if we change our mind in ten or fifteen years, we can then sell it and upgrade without taking the biggest depreciation hit.

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#2016106 - 01/17/13 12:22 PM Re: How to look at an older, used piano [Re: concertina]
concertina Offline
Full Member

Registered: 07/11/11
Posts: 43
Loc: Canada
Thanks, Jerry, for that input. I would certainly want to get it appraised. My original question was only: what can I look at, myself, to avoid wasting my money and a technician's time looking at a piano that is obviously not worth any further consideration? Once it passes that test, I would hire a technician. If it passes that inspection, I would be willing to spend a little more in the first year or so to bring the tuning back to where it should be.

Can a good technician give me an idea of where the price should be? If it did need some work, I would expect that to translate into a lower selling price. Would it?

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#2016125 - 01/17/13 12:54 PM Re: How to look at an older, used piano [Re: concertina]
Jerry Groot RPT Offline
6000 Post Club Member

Registered: 11/07/07
Posts: 6828
Loc: Grand Rapids Michigan
Look at the strings. Are they discolored? Are any missing? Look at the bridges. See if there are any hair line cracks or splits. Crawl underneath the piano with a GOOD flashlight. Check the sound board for hair line splits, cracks or other major damage.

While you're looking at the strings, look for ANY signs at all of water damage. People just LOOOOOVE to place flowers and things that need watering on top of their piano and these things do fall over and these things do get over filled leaking, somewhere. Did any of the hammers POP from water leaking onto them? It is possible and it does happen every now and then which also means strings will be rusty and other problems will be evident.

Take that good flashlight and look at the hammers for wear. How flat are the hammers. There are enough websites out there that show what a good hammer should look like that you can see the difference. People may say that the piano has had very little use but, don't believe what you are told. People try to fool me all the time by telling me that I've always had my piano tuned. Twice a year!!! I arrive to find that they've tuned it twice, in 10 years.... Guess they think we can all be fooled because they can.

Even if the hammers need filing and they more than likely do after 14 years or so, so what? That's considered normal wear and tear. On an instrument that is likely, if it is worth it, to last you another 35 years or more, that's a drop in the bucket and no pianos cannot be compared to cars.

Cars last 8 years if we're lucky. I drive 25-30,000 miles a year. If I buy a used car with 87,000 miles on it, I'll be lucky to get 100,000 out of it without spending a fortune replacing transmissions and lots of other things like struts and lots more. I know because I've done it many times. So, 5 years later if I'm lucky, I'm spending another $7,000 or more on another car on top of the thousands that I've spend during the time I owned it. It's a far cry from owning a piano and the cost difference is no comparison at all.

Yes, a good technician can tell you what the value of the piano is "as is." I always look at what it needs now, regardless of what that need is. I deduct that need, off from the value of the piano.

I'm just picking a figure here it's not a real figure... Let's say, the piano asking price is $15,000. Owners either ask to little or they often ask to much because they haven't a clue. Let's say, in today's market the actual value, of that piano is $12,000 not $15,000. That's where I start with my figures. Let's see, it needs, this, that, cleaning, tuning, regulation, filing hammers etc, deduct that off from the as is value of the piano which is probably less than that, i don't know... I'm just tossing figures out there.

So, you've already gained the knowledge of knowing that the piano was not really worth the asking price to begin with.

You've walked away with the knowledge of just exactly what the piano is going to require work wise and how much that is going to cost you

You walked away knowing the exact cost of the piano, the work and what the value is before and after the work is done and if, that particular piano is worth it. Not saying it's not..... Don't read between the lines. wink Just saying, you'll know.

Without the tech, you don't know squat and it's like asking questions here. Nobody from here can give you a reliable answer from a computer screen as to what this piano is really worth, what the price might be, it could be worth more than what they're asking for it but, a good technician will keep their trap shut about that in front of the owner. It could require nothing but a couple of good tunings. Who knows without seeing it? I don't... smile
_________________________
Jerry Groot RPT
Piano Technicians Guild
Grand Rapids, Michigan
www.grootpiano.com

We love to play BF2.

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#2016138 - 01/17/13 01:20 PM Re: How to look at an older, used piano [Re: concertina]
Minnesota Marty Offline

Platinum Supporter until October 5 2014


Registered: 05/15/12
Posts: 7285
Loc: Rochester MN
Jerry has given you good advice. Both as to how you can do an initial inspection, and then how to proceed with an inspection and evaluation by a professional.

You have a big advantage as you are looking at a piano which was built as a quality instrument, and not just as a cheap entry level piano. Even better, you have two identical pianos, of the relatively same vintage, to do a comparison and select the better of the two. With judicious mention, that is to your advantage in negotiations.

Good luck with your auditions and let us know how your search is progressing.
_________________________
Marty in Minnesota

It's much easier to bash a Steinway than it is to play one.

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#2016237 - 01/17/13 04:29 PM Re: How to look at an older, used piano [Re: concertina]
concertina Offline
Full Member

Registered: 07/11/11
Posts: 43
Loc: Canada
Thanks for those insights. And of course, I don't think pianos and cars are really the same, just that they're both a) stressful to shop for and b) experience the most depreciation when they are new. My goal is to get the best piano possible with the money I have, and of course to avoid getting something that will be a money pit.

Does anybody want to recommend a good piano technician in Calgary? I have looked at the PTG website but I have to narrow it down somehow.

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#2016418 - 01/17/13 11:25 PM Re: How to look at an older, used piano [Re: concertina]
Supply Offline
3000 Post Club Member

Registered: 09/11/06
Posts: 3919
Loc: Vancouver Island, BC, Canada
I have come across many pianos which have had only 1 or 2 years of light playing on them, even though they were 15 or 20 years old. This can often be a good thing - to use the car analogy, it is buying a low mileage vehicle. Sure, it needs a pitch raise, tuning, a good cleaning, maybe some lubrication, etc. But that is a far cry from a 10 year old piano that has been heavily used and tuned regularly - the hammers need re-shaping and voicing, the key bushings are almost worn out , the damper wires are loose in their guide rail bushings, etc, etc. A piano technician will be able to see how much wear is on the parts.

The older but almost-unused piano will probably be available for less, too - people have been staring at it, sitting there in silence for too many years, now they are happy to pass it on.

And don't worry - four tunings in a year to account for acclimatizing is absolute nonsense.
_________________________
Jurgen Goering
Piano Forte Supply
www.pianofortesupply.com

Piattino Caster Cups distributor

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#2016427 - 01/17/13 11:55 PM Re: How to look at an older, used piano [Re: Jerry Groot RPT]
Morodiene Offline
Yikes! 10000 Post Club Member

Registered: 04/06/07
Posts: 11764
Loc: Boynton Beach, FL
Originally Posted By: Jerry Groot RPT
Now, the owner will be there and, the owner will probably ask the tech for as much information as possible. I always refuse to give the owner any information. But, I get asked by the owner almost every single time I'm hired to appraise a piano for the buyer. The owner didn't hire me to look at the piano for them, YOU DID. Owners can be very sneaky that way. I'm not one that allows that. I look it over, keep silent, thank them for their time and if they ask me any questions I defer it back to the buyer saying, sorry, the buyer is paying me for my time, my assessment goes to them and only to them. I smile and walk out.

Some owners get pretty persnickety with this. They think they are deserving of a free appraisal from the technician. This happens frequently.

It would be advisable for you to also be there when we are there looking at the piano. That will help to ensure that the owners ask the tech less questions. It also allows the technician to point things out to you, as we see them while the piano is apart.


Heh, I never thought of this, but I can see how that would be quite annoying for you to deal with, and quite annoying for the buyer to hire someone who perhaps isn't as scrupulous about keeping quiet on evaluation!
_________________________
private piano/voice teacher - full time
MTNA member
www.valeoconservatory.com
Petrof 9'2 Concert, Yamaha G3, Roland FP-7, Yamaha MOX6, Kawai MP11

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#2016644 - 01/18/13 10:49 AM Re: How to look at an older, used piano [Re: concertina]
concertina Offline
Full Member

Registered: 07/11/11
Posts: 43
Loc: Canada
Is four tunings in a year nonsense? I assumed that a piano that hasn't been regularly tuned might need more for the first year or so.

Does anyone want to chime in with what they think might be a fair price for an RX1 of this age?

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#2016690 - 01/18/13 12:02 PM Re: How to look at an older, used piano [Re: concertina]
jawhitti Offline
Full Member

Registered: 08/01/12
Posts: 235
Four tunings a year is expected the first year. Not nonsense at all.

RE price: The RX1BLK has a SMP in the fall '12 guide of about 26k. Depreciation on a 15 year-old model in average conditions suggests a "by the book" price in the ballpark of about 12,500. Deduct something from this price as it is a private seller (no warranty, not dealer support, no delivery) and you get to something like $10,000. Searching Google for "1997 kawai RX-1 for sale" produces asking prices in that range.

If the piano is in good shape and you can talk the guy below 10k I'd say you done good.

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#2016700 - 01/18/13 12:20 PM Re: How to look at an older, used piano [Re: concertina]
Minnesota Marty Offline

Platinum Supporter until October 5 2014


Registered: 05/15/12
Posts: 7285
Loc: Rochester MN
Concertina,

Keep in mind that the 2001 RX-1 will not have the same amount of depreciation applied for a quick calculation.

Since I don't know the Canadian market, I can't be definitive. As has been mentioned in your other thread, there is no way to evaluate any piano without seeing and examining a particular piano to give an accurate price. Prices on Craigslist are nothing more the "hopes" of the sellers. When your chosen piano is inspected by a tech, you will have additional information for bargaining.

Were I going to see either of these instruments, in the States, I would have a ballpark figure of ~$12K in my mind. Then it is up to the skill as a negotiator to reach a satisfactory amount for both parties.

Good Luck,
_________________________
Marty in Minnesota

It's much easier to bash a Steinway than it is to play one.

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#2016702 - 01/18/13 12:24 PM Re: How to look at an older, used piano [Re: concertina]
jawhitti Offline
Full Member

Registered: 08/01/12
Posts: 235
Oh concertina is in Canada? My bad -- please ignore my post as the market up there appears to be quite different.

Oh - one other thing I forgot to mention. An RX-1 that old will not have Millenium action or the "Blak" touches, which I would speculate would drive the price *down* from the rough number given by the depreciation guide since it's really not quite apples-to-apples anymore.


Edited by jawhitti (01/18/13 12:38 PM)

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#2016723 - 01/18/13 01:10 PM Re: How to look at an older, used piano [Re: concertina]
concertina Offline
Full Member

Registered: 07/11/11
Posts: 43
Loc: Canada
Okay, the newer piano owner is asking just under $11000, and the older one is listed at $9500 (both obo). So I will assume that I can negotiate down a little bit, but not too much, depending on the technician's report.

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#2016727 - 01/18/13 01:17 PM Re: How to look at an older, used piano [Re: concertina]
jawhitti Offline
Full Member

Registered: 08/01/12
Posts: 235
Just remember that you can't compare a private sale price to a dealer price. You are getting no warranty, no delivery, no post-delivery tunings.

Used pianos move slow. I would bet you can negotiate pretty hard. Private owners selling pianos typically want them GONE. The seller is free to try to sell to a dealer, who will want to give them at least 30% less so as to be able to have budget to clean it up and sell it at some kind of profit. Don't be afraid to offer 20% under asking - they may settle for 10% or 15% under just to get to your cash smile

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#2017363 - 01/19/13 03:40 PM Re: How to look at an older, used piano [Re: concertina]
concertina Offline
Full Member

Registered: 07/11/11
Posts: 43
Loc: Canada
Well, I looked at these pianos and I really liked them. The newer one appeared to be in a little bit better condition and was much more in tune. There were less visible grooves in the hammers, which I think means it has been played less. Both pianos are in their second homes. I can probably get the older one for less, but I am willing to spend a little more to get the better piano. But if the older one could be put into just as good condition, I could save some money.

Any advice, if I should have them both inspected or just have the tech look at the newer one? It appears to be impeccably maintained.

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#2017366 - 01/19/13 03:46 PM Re: How to look at an older, used piano [Re: concertina]
concertina Offline
Full Member

Registered: 07/11/11
Posts: 43
Loc: Canada
I just looked up the serial numbers and it looks like the 2001 piano was actually built in 1998, so they're only a year difference. Hmmm...

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#2017370 - 01/19/13 03:50 PM Re: How to look at an older, used piano [Re: concertina]
jawhitti Offline
Full Member

Registered: 08/01/12
Posts: 235
Whatever you decide to do set aside a few hundred dollars to have a thorough voicing and regulation done. In fact you might use that as a bargaining chip. Good luck!

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